Katarzyna and Marianne Wasowska: Waiting for the Snow
ArtistKatarzyna and Marianne Wasowska
ArtistWaiting for the snow
‘Waiting for the Snow’ is a long-term photographic project conducted by Katarzyna Wasowska (b. 1990, Poland) and Marianne Wasowska (b. 1988, France) that examines the phenomenon of Polish migration to South America during the partitions in the 19th century as well as during the interbellum (1918-1938). By sharing the stories of the Polish decedents, the Wasowska Collective focuses on the phenomenon of creolisation and the mixing of cultures.
In the interview for GUP Magazine, they talk about their motivations for covering the topic of Polish migration, especially in the wake of Poland’s aggressive, anti-immigrant politics.
How did you learn about the history of Polish migration to South America?
Each of us arrived at the story in a different way. Marianne had recently moved to Argentina, were she started a project about identity, linked with migration and memory. There, she found out that Argentina had been the destination of a huge number of Polish migrants. She even discovered that some of our own family emigrated there. At the same time, Katarzyna was conducting a research on Polish diaspora across the globe and studying the Polish migration history. During the process, she stumbled upon the history of Argentina and Brazil, which dwells the biggest diaspora of Poles, right after the USA.
Why did you decide to work on this project together?
One of us (Katarzyna) lives in Poland and the other (Marianne) has recently moved from France to Latin America. Each of us come from different backgrounds, growing up in rather contrasting circumstance. However, we did manage to connect our interests through photography. ‘Waiting for the Snow’ emerged from our mutual interest in the history of the Wasowska family, which is strongly marked by migration. Due to various reasons, many of our relatives emigrated to various places across the world, amongst others to France, Australia, USA as well as Argentina. We believe that both of our perspectives can act complimentary and lead us to a much wider and complex view on the topic.
What were the motivations for the Polish to move to places like Brazil and Argentina?
Their motivations to migrate were hunger, misery and political instability. This period was a critical moment in Polish history, when the country was split between Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia. Poland had literally disappeared from the map for 123 years!
But the question could also be asked, the other way around: what were the motivations for Brazil and Argentina to welcome Polish migrants? Back then, both countries went through a bitter period of colonisation and it is only since recent that they’ve reclaimed independence. As young states, they both looked forward to building a capitalist society. The Brazilian as well as the Argentinian governments believed that only European workers would be able to build a modern society.
Both countries, cared to replace native inhabitants with white, European workers. In Argentina, the government even proceeded with the “desert conquest”, which was basically a genocide of all native populations, in order take over their land. This historical fact was at the core of our project. It showed us that the economical structure is also a racial one; capitalism and racial hierarchy go intrinsically together.
It is also important to mention that during imperial times, the Americas were presented as the land of fantasies, dreams and promises. Both for the rich and for the poor. That is why big investors bought entire regions in Brazil and Argentina and ran colonial projects, selling the “colon status” as a way to reach social ascension.
The series consists of photographs taken by yourselves, but it also includes archival footage, as well as photographs from family albums. How did you get access to this secondary material and can you talk about the decision of blending these materials?
All the archival photographs are copies of original photographs, which the descendants of Polish migrants showed us during our meetings in Brazil and Argentina. Most of them are pictures from family archives but also pictures from old newspapers. For us, it matters to build a dynamic of exchange and mutual trust. Many times, our meetings with the Polish descendants, especially with the older generation, end up being very emotional.
Many of those who arrived in South America during the partitions with a Russian, Ukrainian, German or Austro-Hungarian passport couldn’t apply for a Polish nationality after Poland regained its independence – post WWII. Their stories are suspended somewhere between the past and the present and that is why we decided to mix the archival material with our own images from their current life.
How did you come up with the title: ‘Waiting for the Snow’? Does it refer to anything specific?
The title refers to a story Katarzyna heard in Brazil about the arrival of the first Polish migrants. Being used to freezing winters back home, Polish workers prepared themselves for the winter to come, unaware that that season will never reach this part of the world. Instead of relaxing and adjusting to the new climate, the Polish kept on accumulating goods, criticising the natives for being lazy and unprepared.
Is there a political motivation behind this project – regarding to the current anti-immigrant movement in Poland. Are you wanting to make a nuanced statement about the fact that Poland has an immigration history too?
Yes, one of the main impulses to start the project was the 2015 parliamentary elections in Poland, when PIS [national-conservative, Christian democratic and right-wing populist political party] – leading until this day – started an anti-immigrant and anti-refugee propaganda. It is remarkable that a country with such a long migration history can develop such a negative attitude towards migrants. We were interested in an alternative narrative, other than the one propagated by the Polish government, which is mainly focusing on foreigners as being a source of danger.
Do you consider the project completed? Or if not, how do you foresee the work to progress?
The project is now halfway advanced. Until now, we mostly investigated the origins of the aforementioned migration stories; who were the migrants, from which parts of Poland did they origin, how came their arrival and adaptation to another – exotic – culture to practice, what remained from their Polish culture, etcetera.
However, another important aspect of the project we haven’t yet managed to cover is the new identity that resulted from such migrations. We are interested in how the slavonic culture melted into a landscape composed of other European and non-European roots. For knowledge about this heritage could totally redefine the common idea that we the Europeans have about identity and the nation-state.
As for potential presentation modes, since each image has a separate story to tell, we see our work predominantly in a publication format. When showing the project in an exhibition space we like to play with the format of the photographs as well as introduce elements inspired with the style of Eastern countryside.